Content Note: the following essay contains rape, sexual assault.
He took my underpants as a trophy. Or so I heard. The hearing was humiliating enough. I didn’t need to see to believe. I was just 13 and in the 8th grade. I had gone to my best friend’s house for an overnight. I always loved going to her house. She rarely came to mine. Her house sat up on a hill—had a long, private driveway. She lived next door to a famous NFL football player. It was a big, three-story house, with a basement that we could easily sneak boys in and out of. There was a hot tub as well. It had all the fixings for 13-year-old debauchery.
That particular Saturday night was no different from any other weekend night I spent at Liz’s house, but it became a night I would never forget. A few boys came over after midnight and we all pulled off a two-liter bottle of California Coolers, peach flavor. It was the drink of choice at the time—all of us being amateur drinkers at that point. I loved the taste of alcohol, right from the start. More importantly, I loved the way it took away any self -doubt or awkward 8th-grade social jitters. It was really then that my love affair with alcohol began—really as soon as I discovered it. But that’s a different story.
After some drinking, we sat around playing truth or dare. Eventually, this led to some pairing off—one girl/one boy, one girl/one boy, whoever’s left, you get the gist. That night, I ended up with a boy named Sam. I didn’t know much about Sam, but I knew he went to a neighboring school and was a 9th grader. Older boy—enticing! I don’t remember much about that night with Sam, once we paired off. What I do remember is waking up out of a blackout, passed out on the floor of the bathroom downstairs, with nothing on from the waist down. My crotch was sore and felt “different” like it had been penetrated. I went to sleep that night, crying and woke to more tears. I was so confused.
I don’t remember much else about that night. It’s that black and white. We laughed, we drank, we goofed off, we teased each other, we dared each other, and then a boy named Sam “raped” me. That is the first time I’ve used that word in describing what happened to me that night, long, long ago. It’s interesting to me that I still have a hard time using it, hence the quotation marks. The truth is, though, that it was rape. It may not have been some stranger grabbing me off a desolate street and pounding me to the ground while I screamed no, attempting to fight him off. But it was rape, nonetheless.
I was passed out. When the night began I was a virgin. When I awoke, I was no longer a virgin, to my own surprise. This, my friends, is rape. When a boy takes a girl’s virginity, while she lays helpless and unconscious on the bathroom floor, it is rape. There is nothing else to call it. Boys need to know this. Girls too. We can no longer make excuses, lighten the accusatory words, blame the girls for drinking, blah, blah, blah. It has to stop. Unless a girl is fully, consciously consenting to a sexual act of any kind, it is not the time. Boys and girls must know this truth.
I have an 8-year-old daughter whom I love, with a fierce love that I never knew could exist. The thought of her having to go through something similar makes me want to crawl out of my skin. It stops here. We educate. We come together and tell our stories. We feel empathy, compassion, and hope. No matter what a girl is wearing, how much she has drunk, what kinds of messages YOU think she might be putting out (often unintentional by the way), it’s never her fault. We have to believe this to our core.
My story ends something like this—the next week at school, I heard that Sam brought my panties to his school, as a trophy of his “manly” entitlement. I was disgusted, mortified, scared, and had no idea what to do. So, I did nothing. My friends tried their best to comfort me and I locked it away in my memory banks, in order to self-preserve. The only time it resurfaced was during angry drinking bouts, where I would lash out and “share” my experience with whomever was lucky enough to be in my presence. During one of those nights, I actually called his house (remember those days when phones were home phones) and woke his parents up at some ungodly hour. I yelled at them that their son had taken my virginity, while he defended himself angrily from his bedroom phone. It was not a pretty conversation. It ended and nothing ever came of it. Shame on his parents.
I recently have been reminded of this event by all of the #metoo posts. I think it’s powerful, yet sad, to hear how so many women have been hurt (either physically or emotionally) by men in our society. There are a disgusting number of women in our society who have been molested, raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed. But there are even more that have been simply made to feel awkward and ashamed of their own sexuality as a girl or woman in America, through receiving things like catcalls, inappropriate comments, and unwelcomed touch. The idea that girls’ bodies exist to heighten boys’ senses is done. It was done a long time ago. Let’s move on folks.
I’m just now discovering how this one event really laid the groundwork for my feelings about sex over the years. I have often felt uninterested in sex, ashamed of feeling sexual gratification, dirty, undeserving. There are other things that unfortunately happened along the way that continued to reinforce my uninspired attitude towards sex. To this day, it’s something I struggle with and it affects my marriage. That’s what people often don’t understand—that these events have long-lasting effects on girls and women. They often create our stories. They inform our beliefs. They wound our souls. So, today, I stand with all women (and men) who have suffered at the hands of another human, who have felt deep shame for their sexuality, and who have carried these events, having had nowhere to release them. Let’s release them now, together.
Mandi is a writer, educator, life long advocate in the social work arena, mama, and partner. She resides in beautiful, Bellingham, WA. She loves learning, reading, evolving, traveling, hiking, and recovering. She is in long term recovery from substance abuse and is currently creating a website focused on all things recovery. Check her out: www.reflectiverecovery.com or on Facebook.